Old Media Envy

Much of the writing in the ludologist tradition is unduly polemical: they are so busy trying to pull game designers out of their “cinema envy” or define a field where no hypertext theorist dare to venture that they are prematurely dismissing the use value of narrative for understanding their desired object of study.

– Henry Jenkins, “Game Design as Narrative Architecture.

But if these designers have “cinema envy” (and trust me, there are so many who don’t), then I think the designers and academics who praise Emergence above all else actually have a severe case of Tabletop/LARP envy. Or maybe even envy of those kids who, free of the constraints of adult behaviour and sports with rules, construct and morph their own experience for a variety of purposes. And I just don’t understand why that’s any better or more legitimate than envying the other screen arts.

Item Collection and Achievement Hoarding

I don’t read Gamasutra much anymore, mostly because I find half-baked ideas that either frustrate me or make me feel insecure and insignificant. Recently, though, a friend of mine linked to a link to this. It narrows down the desire to collect items and achievements to one of two drives: either you’re OCD, or you really enjoy bragging.

But I believe there is a softer, deeper desire that was not explicitly touched on. The desire to be valued, and the desire to express out value to a society which we feel we deserve to be a part of. If I am on Steam, people can look at what games I’ve played, for how long, with what achievements, and what I am playing now… Or the last time I was even online. We want to appear appropriate to the Steam community, having played the “good” commercial games, the “best” retro games, and the “coolest” indie games. Even if we don’t explicitly try to wear our choices as a badge of honour, it’s still all there, comparing us with our fello Steam buddies.

On the other hand, sometimes we just get achievements because wee like a challenge 😉

The Myth of the Unnarratable Game

Tonight, I was talking to a friend online, and he said he was having a debate with his housemate over whether or not all games had narratives.

My personal opinion? Yes, all games have narratives. It is important that we do no limit our perception of what constitutes a narrative. Generally speaking, a narrative/plot/story is a sequence of events tied together and recounted in such a way as to create meaning. According to Aristotle, a plot requires action, but not necessarily character. There are good plots, and there are bad or weak plots. There are plots that are simple and some that are complex, and they can be categorised according to their strutural and formal attributes.

There is also the whole aspect of self-narration and identity formation that I’m not even going to touch in this post. That’s huge and I love it, but that isn’t what this is about.

There were arguments put forward about MMOs (grind erases narrative), as well as sandbox and “sim” toys (note: I use the term “toy” because Will Wright does). I was surprised that “puzzle games” didn’t come up.

If you play any of these types of games, here’s an activity to do: think about the best game you played of it. What is going through your mind? Key events and moments, strung together in a sequence. There ma or may not have been character, but there was action. By Aristotle’s definition, your “unnarratable” game just achieved the status, “Plot!” Congratulations. You just narrated the unnarratable.

Tragedy

So I’ve been happily going about my Honours research and preparation, talking about catharsis, games, films, plays, etc etc etc, and suddenly, today, it hits me. I talk to my supervisor and then to one of my tutors, and they both say the same thing, “It sounds like you’re more interested in Tragedy than Catharsis.”

They’re right!  I feel like I’ve taken the longest route to get there, and I’m not throwing out any of my ideas.

But now, instead of thinking, “What causes Catharsis, specifically Aristolean Katharsis?”  I am thinking, “How can I make Tragedy playable?”

What is even more exciting for me is reading the transcript for the Friday 27th March morning panel at GDC 2009, focusing on The Role of Games in Personal and Social Change.

It seems like my research is going to be very timely, and hopefully very relevant.  No pressure or anything! 🙂

Two quotes that particularly caught my eye…

Brenda Laurel: Why didn’t girls play video games?

Found: A talk by Brenda Laurel from 1998, entitled Why didn’t girls play video games?

She discusses her research methods, outcome, and reception, including explaining the 4% who gave her negative feedback.

I’d just like to contrast this with Gonzalo Frasca’s comment on Super Princess Peach.

I personally think that Super Princess Peach sounds like a lot of fun.  She’s a princess, not a regular little girl.  Like in the Princess and the peach, where the poor Princess was identified because she couldn’t sleep while there was a single pea placed under all those mattresses.  What do Frasca and Bogost really expect Princess Peach to do?  Suddenly grow balls and turn into the female version of Mario?  Turn into animals like Mario does, only to have it suggested that she is dressing herself up in a sexual way by making herself “animalistic”?  I’m sure if there was a game called, “Super Princess Daisy,” you could do all those things.  She’s a saucy, tomboyish brunette.  Just listen to the differences in their voices in Mario Party DS.

I think what I’m trying to get at is that men who are interested in Serious Games shouldn’t try and judge what effect a game like this will have on a young girl.  We like to role play much more than boys (anyway, the boys would just come in pretending they had a gun to kill something with… but you don’t see anyone crying about that stereotype in FPS games targetted to adult men), and we certainly understand that Princess Peach is a certain idea of a character.  We’d rather be our own selves, our own unique Princess.

Host Master and the Conquest of Humor

Do you like old point-and-click adventure games?

Then you’ll love (or at least find rather amusing):
Host Master and the Conquest of Humour
!

Play as Tim Schafer, founder of Double Fine Productions, and a name inextractably linked to such games as the Monkey Island 1&2, Grim Fandango, …and other games you can surely find yourself, but I feel guilty mentioning because I don’t own/haven’t played them.

Anyway, Host Master is super cute, if the puzzles are slightly contrived (you cut something to get something that you have to cut to get something else).  It’s terribly kitsch and self-aware, and was great fun.  Make sure you get all 22 jokes (not a spoiler, because if you don’t get them, they tell you that you only got x of 22 jokes), and start a new game, just for a little extra laugh 🙂

Ps, Thanks to Brendad for the link 🙂

Dreamgate Escape

Dreamgate Escape is a super-short flash game, packed with huge amounts of tension and clever mini-twists.

Playing it, you enter a dream world, full of nightmarish intrigue.  You don’t know what will or won’t be significant.

This is a perfect example of a well-made demo:  it wouldn’t be hard to present this to a company and say, “So, it’s just like this… but the journey continues.”

coil

I just played a little experimental flash game called, “coil.”

It has an interesting storyline, and I was, quite franky, saying, “wtf?” with each new level.  I went in there with absolutely no idea of what it was about, so I’m not going to say anything.  The only controls are mouse movement, so it’s fairly easy to play.  It can just be a little tricky figuring out what you need to do, and then trying to achieve that goal.

It’s a little dark in tone, but nothing depressing.  Pretty enjoyable, as it is intentionally twisted, and there’s nothing making the game “cheat” you or make you feel ripped off.  Enjoy 🙂